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The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases, one involving Harvard and the other the University of North Carolina, that could reshape college admissions. Both schools are being accused of race-based discrimination in their admission practices. In the coming year, the court will examine whether it’s lawful for college admissions offices to consider a student’s race.

Are you planning to go to college? What criteria do you think colleges should use to admit applicants and why? Should colleges and universities consider race or ethnicity when making decisions about student admissions? Does affirmative action in higher education help or hurt the overall goal of achieving racial equity on college campuses, in your view?

In a news story from January, “Supreme Court Will Hear Challenge to Affirmative Action at Harvard and U.N.C.,” Adam Liptak and Anemona Hartocollis write:

The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide whether race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina are lawful, raising serious doubts about the future of affirmative action in higher education.

The court has repeatedly upheld similar programs, most recently in 2016. But the court’s membership has tilted right in recent years, and its new conservative supermajority is almost certain to view the challenged programs with skepticism, imperiling more than 40 years of precedent that said race could be used as one factor among many in evaluating applicants.

“Affirmative action has repeatedly been administered last rites during the last five decades,” said Justin Driver, a law professor at Yale. “But these two cases unmistakably pose the gravest threats yet to affirmative action’s continued vitality.”

The case against Harvard accused it of discriminating against Asian American students by using a subjective standard to gauge traits like likability, courage and kindness and by effectively creating a ceiling for them in admissions.

Lawyers for Harvard said the challengers had relied on a flawed statistical analysis and denied that the university discriminated against Asian American applicants. More generally, they said race-conscious admissions policies are lawful.

In the North Carolina case, the plaintiffs made a more familiar argument, saying the university discriminated against white and Asian applicants by giving preference to Black, Hispanic and Native American ones. The university responded that its admissions policies fostered educational diversity and were lawful under longstanding Supreme Court precedents.

“Edward Blum, whose group Students for Fair Admissions brought both of the affirmative action cases before the Supreme Court, said: “Every college applicant should be judged as a unique individual, not as some representative of a racial or ethnic group.” However, Damon Hewitt, the president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, counters that “race-conscious admissions policies are a critical tool that ensures students of color are not overlooked in a process that does not typically value their determination, accomplishments and immense talents.” Do you think race should ever be used as a consideration in admissions for college applications? What about in other facets of society like in workplace hiring, in government and elsewhere?”

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